Congratulations to Stockport Harriers for bagging some rare wins this year. James Scott-Buccleuch won in record time for the new route (since 2000) and Stockport won the team prize. Philomena Smith (not from Stockport Harriers) was the women's winner. Congratulations to all. Results are now up on Steve Temple's rather excellent results service here.
Roll forward to the next weekend. I had a relaxing four-day steam train excursion to Scotland booked with my dad, which would have provided welcome UTMB (and possibly BSH) recovery time. I had not run a step since the UTMB injury but I had walked and cycled. The shin pain had subsided remarkably - more than I could have imagined, to be honest. Things were looking up. Our train journey took us as far as Fort William, including an out-and-back to Oban. The junction for the Oban leg was Crianlarich. I got to see Lower Tyndrum station, the finishing point for the Highland Fling. Memories came flooding back. Back to Crianlarich and out again on the upper line to Fort William via Upper Tyndrum station took me further than I'd ever been before. Both previous times I had been here the weather was dry, warm and sunny. This time it was abysmal, with pouring rain and steamed-up windows. Hurricane Katia was moving in.
I'd had a plan brewing. Our train schedule had long been curtailed and we would have a free Monday morning in Fort William. I had printed out the final 7.5 miles of the West Highland Way back to the track near Blar a Chaorainn (ruin). I had packed running and wet weather gear in my luggage. I'm sure you can guess the rest.
At 08:30 on Monday (later than planned) I set off on the well waymarked West Highland Way to see how far I could get in 1.5 hours before turning back. I was dressed in the same waterproofs I wore for the UTMB when it was wet and/or cold. It felt strangely familiar. The wind and rain could do whatever they wanted and I wouldn't care!
The Way was well maintained and mostly empty apart from one or two hardy hikers, who looked less happy than I felt. I saw no other runners. As I ran over the ridge and into the wilderness, into the wind and rain and alone on the well-maintained trail, I felt utterly contented, my only responsibility being to concentrate on placing the next footfall safely. My shin showing no signs of soreness added to my contentment. I had to push against the wind, while the rain fell in fits and bursts, but considering the forecast (extinct) hurricane I was expecting worse. It would come later.
I did not think I would reach 7.5 miles and the end of my Tracklogs route within 1.5 hours but I did, on the dot. I hit the track, turned around, checked out the information board and began the climb back up, down, up to the ridge and down on the long descent on the wide vehicle track towards Fort William. The well-maintained trail did remind me of ones I've run in California. As I ran I thought of Jez Bragg's multiple triumphs into Fort William. I also thought of the post-Highland Fling escapades of "T Rex" in 2009 and 2011, when he continued self-supported from Tyndrum after completing the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way (semi)supported. ("T Rex" is a running forumite and good running friend with an interesting story or three to tell.) I arrived back at the hotel opposite the station in 2hrs 47mins. My shin began to complain on the long descent into Fort William but it's only temporary, I know it. I will be there next weekend for the High Peak 40. THE GRAND SLAM IS ALIVE AGAIN.
By the afternoon and our journey over the wild, exposed Rannoch Moor back to the relative shelter of Crianlarich and beyond, the wind blew and the rain fell viciously. The flat moors were awash with water. I was reminded of the peat bogs of The Fellsman and the bog monster of Grin And Bear It as I tucked into my dinner and drank my fruity red in my antiquated mobile coccoon with its dim 15 Watt 28 Volt lighting (that's 0.5 Amperes apiece!). Away from the watershed, raging, foaming white torrents tumbled off the hillsides and through culverts underneath the railway. At the next water stop (yes, steam engines need hydration too) I spoke to a footplate man, who confirmed how wickedly cold it was over the moors. He needed all his oilskins for survival. Remember a steam locomotive is open to the elements.
For any old train enthusiasts among you, the best of the pictures are here.
I'll see you in Buxton this Saturday.
I'll see you in Buxton this Saturday.